Five Essential Roles
American Psycho (2000)
According to American Psycho’s director/co-writer, Mary Harron, the role of doomed street prostitute, Christie, was written specifically for Cara Seymour. Harron had seen Seymour on stage and became enchanted with her expressive face. It’s a smart bit of casting, because while Christie actually says very little, everything she’s thinking – her confusion, her excitement, her fear – plays out perfectly on her face. We can see her “casing the situation,” as Harron says in her director’s commentary. Casing Patrick Bateman’s apartment, and later, Paul Allen’s, trying to figure out where these haunting nights are going. And who can forget poor Christie, tearing down the hallway of a fancy New York apartment building, banging on random doors, screaming for help? But no one’s there, my dear, are they?
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
It’s difficult to describe the full weight of Seymour’s work in Lars von Trier’s masterful Dancer in the Dark without ruining key elements of the film. But Linda is a tough role to play. The wife of a seemingly good-natured police officer (played by the great David Morse), Linda is the kind of character who believes they are doing right. Based on the information they have, and the way in which they received it, they think they’re pursuit is unselfish and just. But because we, the audience, are privy to the truth, we can’t help but shame Linda for pursing incorrect righteousness. It’s a challenging juxtaposition – we won’t necessarily like Linda, but upon reflection, we can’t help but realize that she truly thinks she’s doing the right thing. This explanation of her work will make more sense once you’ve seen Dancer in the Dark, which, if you have not, you should immediately.
I’ve always found Spike Jonze’s Adaptation to be a terribly funny, and heartbreakingly sad film. The movie’s dry humor is what is most often talked about, and for good reason. But this is a movie that knows emotional torment (more on that here). For example, how devastating is the scene when Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) spots his friend and one-time would-be lover, Amelia, at a party, and she’s with a guy that bears a striking physical resemblance to Charlie? It’s so sad because Charlie had assumed he wasn’t good enough for Amelia. He’s too overweight, too bald, too sweaty, too… Charlie. He has his chance with Amelia, earlier in the film, and blows it due to his own insecurities. But weeks later, there she is, with a Charlie doppelgänger, looking happy as can be. Amelia liked Charlie because he’s Charlie. She liked his mind, his intellect, his passion for classical music. It’s so sad that he couldn’t see that.
Gangs of New York (2002)
There are certainly other, bigger Seymour performances to occupy a spot on this list. Her starring work in the little seen indies A Good Baby and Beyond the Fire are two such fine examples. After all, she’s barely in Gangs of New York; she doesn’t have a single line, and is only featured in a handful of shots. But I love that, before drafting this post, I had no idea Seymour even played the part of a ferocious street warrior who bites and claws and slices in order to kill her male combatants. It’s a small role, one masked with convincing make-up, but what can I say, I just love that Cara Seymour played the hell out of Hell-Cat Maggie.
An Education (2009)
Some of my favorite moments of An Education are the gentle scenes between Jenny (Carey Mulligan) and her affable mother, Marjorie. They’re so detached from one another – the precocious teenager who quietly resents her timid mother – sharing but a few words here and there, both never having much to say. It’s as if Jenny fears becoming Marjorie, a quiet, soft-spoken woman all but controlled by her domineering husband. And it too is as if Marjorie fears that Jenny will become her. None of this is spoken, but rather, shared with subtle glances, looks of understanding. It’s wonderfully restrained work by Seymour, and her chemistry with her on-screen husband, Alfred Molina, is really quite something. You believe immediately that these two are married, and have the type of patriarchal union they indeed have.
The Best of the Best
The Knick (2014)
We know what to expect from nuns in movies. They’re mean, resolute, cold, detached, unwavering. Independent opinions are foreign and personalities are nonexistent. Sister Harriet in Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant TV show, The Knick, is a nun of a different breed. She smokes, she moonlights, she blasphemies; she’s smart, sassy, her own independent woman. A nun with a pricelessly dry wit, Harriet never shies from a battle, whether she’s insulting the corrupt police to their face (“The Lord loves all his children equally, though in your case, Mr. Cleary, I’m sure he’ll make an exception.”), or standing up for those who aren’t afforded the luxury of a loud voice.
Perhaps it’s in Episode 7, when Harriet puts her life on the line to protect a group of innocent black people during a race riot, that Seymour delivered her finest work on the show. Or Episode 10, when one major character on the show realizes Harriet’s other job (which I won’t reveal here), much to her shock, and ultimate appreciation. Like the show itself, Sister Harriet is a redefinition of familiar things we’ve come to expect in our entertainment. It’s also lovely that, at age 51, after nearly two decades in movies and TV, Cara Seymour is currently having her finest moment yet, with no signs of slowing down.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
A Good Baby (2000)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Steal Me (2005)
The Savages (2007)
The Greatest (2009)
Beyond the Fire (2009)
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974/1983 (2009)
The Music Never Stopped (2011)
I Origins (2014)
I Origins (2014)